Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Perilous Odyssey of Apollo 13

 The Latin phrase Ex Luna, Scientia means "From the Moon, Knowledge."

Today on Far Future Horizons we commemorate the forty-fifth anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13 with the documentary Apollo 13 The Real Story produced by Dateline NBC.

Apollo 13 was the third Apollo mission intended to land on the Moon, but a mid-mission oxygen tank rupture caused sufficient damage to force the lunar landing to be aborted. The flight was commanded by James A. Lovell, with John L. "Jack" Swigert command module pilot, and Fred W. Haise lunar module pilot.

The mission launched on April 11, 1970 at 13:13 CST. Two days later, en route to the Moon, a fault in the electrical system of one of the Service Module's oxygen tanks produced an overpressure rupture which caused a loss of electrical power and failure of both oxygen tanks. The Command Module remained functional on its own batteries and oxygen tank, which were only designed to support the vehicle during the last hours of flight. The crew shut down the Command Module and used the Lunar Module as a "lifeboat" during the return trip to earth. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to jury-rig the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17, and the mission was termed a "successful failure". A misquotation of the radio transmission made by Swigert and repeated by Lovell ("...Houston, we've had a problem...") has become widely quoted in popular culture as "Houston, we have a problem."

"And so began the most perilous but eventually triumphant situation ever encountered in human spaceflight".

The Crew of Apollo 13 Left to right: Lovell, Swigert, Haise

On the night of April 13th, 1970, when the oxygen tank in Apollo 13's command module exploded, a 27-year-old engineer named Jerry Woodfill sat at his console in the Mission Evaluation Room at Johnson Space Center, monitoring the caution and warning system he helped create for the Apollo spacecraft.

he severely damaged Apollo 13 service module (SM) as photographed from the lunar module/command module. An entire panel on the SM was blown away by the explosion of an oxygen tank.

Nancy Atkinson has started a series of articles on Universe Today entitled "13 things that saved Apollo 13" which look back at the Apollo 13 incident, based on an analysis by Jerry Woodfill. For a deeper insight of the effort on the part of the engineers of mission control to save the crew these articles are definitely worth reading.

Apollo 13: The Real Story

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